Text Prompt to Illustration

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Some of you might know I studied Physics in college, and went on to study International History for my Masters degree. Rather unartistic fields of study in a sense, but I've found my educational background as a historian and science major informs and diversifies my art and art instruction, particularly in color theory and art history areas. I also had the opportunity to study Children's Literature and Picture Books in grad school, and I'll sometimes share useful illustration knowledge here because fascinating info is meant to be shared, and is great for any artistic growth.

So above you’ll see another artist’s illustration for the following picture book text:

“Oh, look! A barn owl in the tree! Summer nights, moonlit skies, winking, blinking fireflies.”

It’s actually a lovely prompt for a Summer nights piece for anyone, so feel free to make and share your own version in my Patreon community section, or just your ideas for your own unique version in the comments below.

In the case of the piece shared above, the illustrator (not myself) has chosen a simplified, cartoony way of rendering the child, the medium appears to be chalk pastel, with loose, vibrating, overlapping color areas, and the illustration of the scene has been divided up into a larger rectangular composition and a separate, smaller oval vignette of the owl in close up to the left. 

This is a very specific interpretation; the depiction of the text could have gone in innumerable directions in the hands of different people, and I’m sure the image that springs to your own mind has some similarities (perhaps of similar violet and blue nighttime hues) and some differences (style, layout, medium). If you have seen any of my own pieces, you can guess the image above is not my style, and you probably didn’t need to be told I didn’t create it.

This is partly because he has done what appears to be a pastel piece, and I work in watercolor or gouache or ink and watercolor wash. He also has a simplified drawing style and layout, which is different than my own approach. It's fascinating to compare how different artists visualize the same text: Give the same text to a dozen illustrators, and you will get 12 very disparate scenes—each different in art style, composition, mood, medium, etc. In fact, I illustrated my own version of this scene based on the text prompt about five years ago, and even though I am the same person, I am not the same artist (thankfully!), and I would illustrate this text very differently now. 

And one artist can have various, simultaneous ideas about how to illustrate the same text, and this is actually an imagination enhancing exercise that you can do mentally for any subject—how many different ways can you imagine this same prompt visually? 

a) Maybe one version can have the owl as the large focal point for the whole piece,

b) while another version pays more attention to the moon and fireflies and the owl is just a small shadow in a tree. 

c) And for our purposes, the text doesn’t have to include a child—it can be just a nature landscape,

d) or maybe it's from the perspective of an adult sitting on their porch at night making the whole scene more domestic, 

e) or from the view of one of the animals or insects. 

f) And, the time period doesn’t have to be contemporary—what would this transform into if it was illustrated in ancient Egypt? 

g) Victorian London? 

h) A fantasy world of dragon-fireflies?

i) A steampunk sci-fi of metal, gear-filled owls? 

j) k) l)... And choosing watercolor or ink or gouache (or other mediums), and loose and washy or tight and realistic rendering add many other changeable elements. 

When the 2nd steward of the Rashidun Caliphate (632 AD) remarked that even a whole life was not enough to ponder a few sentences of text, he was not wrong.

I will share my own version of this Summer Nights piece, and more importantly, my brainstorming process for it, including studies and thumbnails, layout, medium, style, and color palette choices in another post.

So, how would you illustrate a scene based on the text prompt above? Whether or not you choose to do your own rendition, please feel free to comment below on how your version (or versions!) would be your own—what compositional, style, and medium choices would you make? 

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